British Beef #3 - Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno
You wouldn't put Frank Bruno or Lennox Lewis top of your bad boys list, but back in 1993 they rocked each other to the very roots in a bitter row that upset more than just your average fight fan...
Last Updated: 16/11/13 5:27pm
Two giants of the British ring clashed for a world title in Wales 18 years ago... and there was bad, bad blood.
Lennox Lewis was cool. He had ice running through his veins. Frank Bruno was a national treasure. The housewives' favourite.
Individually they would not be the first men you would expect to whip up a storm around a fight, yet when they fought in 1993, they did just that.
And with Lewis' WBC heavyweight title on the line theirs was a very public spat that threw culture, race, legal writs and animosity into a melting pot, with two of British boxing's biggest names and their supporting crews, doing all the stirring.
As soon as the fight was made it had the necessary ingredients. Bruno was hoping to make it third time lucky in a world-title fight with a nation willing him on. Lewis was making the second defence of a belt he had won out of the ring.
But he was, on the back of Olympic success for Canada five years earlier, still trying to convince Great Britain he was one of their own.
The writ: Lewis is hit with one for calling Bruno 'an Uncle Tom'
It was a point not lost on Bruno or his manager Terry Lawless. The fight was given the Battle of Britain title and from that moment on it not only became the selling point but it gave the challenger's camp something to unsettle the normally unflappable Lewis.
To add to the champion's ire, he had gone out of his way to establish himself back in his homeland. He had turned professional in Britain, with a British license, he had won and defended the British heavyweight title and earned the Lonsdale Belt, he had even set up home in the home counties, a long way from his West Ham roots.
He felt British, he flew the British flag and usually, Frank Maloney was by his side, in his trademark Union Jack suits. To America, where Lewis would later wreak havoc as unified heavyweight champion of the world, he was as British as fish and chips and a cup of tea.
To Bruno, who was never as dim as his public persona would have you believe, he was an opportunist who had become British because it meant a better chance of success, more money and more boxing opportunity. He was an imposter on a scene in which he had long been the number one.
And he was not coming to win hearts and minds with a charm offensive. As laid-back as Lewis appeared, he knew how to wind up an opponent; Mike Tyson and Hasim Rahman would be proof of that later in life but as a young heavyweight champion trying to stamp his identity on a country's sporting psyche. He was proud of his Jamaican roots, ring-walked to Bob Marley and supported the Labour Party.
The jab: Bruno made a decent start as Lewis looked distracted
Bruno on the other hand, was a committed Thatcherite, everyone in Britain knew him and even though when it had mattered against Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson he was a loser, he was a lovable one.
Lewis though thought differently. He saw Bruno as a sell-out who had betrayed his West Indian heritage to become part of the fabric, anything but the proud black man he was.
His sentiments were summed up with one simple insult: "An Uncle Tom". Just as Muhammad Ali had used it to upset Joe Frazier all those years ago, Lewis had apparently pulled this out at the beginning of their press work and Bruno was, understandably, livid.
Fiercely proud of his roots - his mother had, like Lewis emigrated from Jamaica to the UK - he took exception to being labelled a stooge, the white businessman's play thing.
Just as it had been from Ali, it was clumsy from Lewis, but in a 90s Britain less pre-occupied with the issue of race it might have been glossed over in many parts. Not in Bruno's camp. A legal writ was issued and although it was never served, the dye was cast for this to become a bitter build-up.
"I'd never thought of Lennox as British," Frank would write in his autobiography years later. "He may have come back now and again but he grew up in Canada. He sounds like a Canadian. To me he is Canadian. He won an Olympic gold medal and good luck to him. The Olympics are about doing it for your country - and millions of Canadians must have been very proud of him."
The finish: Lewis traps Bruno in the corner before Mickey Vann steps in
Back then, Bruno adopted the moniker True Brit. It was sewn into his gown for the fight and most of his press work was done proudly sporting red, white and blue. Both fighters, vowing for the hearts and minds of British fight fans, had landed low blows, both of which hurt.
They were not the only ones caught up in it either, Bruno's wife Laura and Frank Maloney fell out and exchanged words before, probably during, and certainly after the fight - which took place at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales. In October. In the open air.
The risk of rain was even written into the contract and, with the WBC's blessing, in the event of a downpour after four rounds it was agreed it would go to the scorecards! It rained during the undercard and the canvas had to be replaced, while Bruno walked to the ring with plastic bags over his boots.
The Welsh crowd gave him the sort of hero's welcome he had become used to and as if Lewis didn't know what he was up against, he did by the time he made his walk to a far less enthusiastic reception.
He looked edgy in the pre-fight formalities and it has been said that for the first, and possibly one of the few times, he began the fight more concerned with knocking his opponent out than getting the win on his record.
It showed in the opening exchanges as Bruno, never the most lucid of fighters, slipped into a rhythm early on and was ahead after the first four rounds - he even had his man in trouble in the second. Lewis admitted afterwards that he "just wanted to take his head off", but had to settle for a few stiff jabs, working on Bruno's right eye and ended up with a small cut of his own, over the left.
But he - and most of the crowd knew - that if Lewis could land big, it would change everything. Bruno had frozen against Tyson after all even when on top, being urged by Harry Carpenter to "get in there Frank".
Then, in the seventh, Lewis swung a wild - certainly by his standards - left hook that landed. The pause came and he jumped in trying to finish it there and then. Referee Micky Vann had other ideas though and leapt in, not to call the fight off, but to lecture Lewis for hitting and holding.
It merely delayed the inevitable outcome and the very next flourish was it. Bruno, familiarly slumped on the ropes in the referee's arms, had been ahead on the scorecards, just as he had been in the popularity stakes. There was no doubt Lewis had proved himself the new great British hope, but that was not the end of it.
Claims that Laura Bruno had spat in Maloney's face came out, the post-fight press conference was anything but handshakes and mutual respect. These two had insulted each other to their very roots and it would take years before it was forgiven, never mind forgotten.
Lewis, for all his achievements post-Bruno, would never replace Frank in British hearts and perhaps, taking him on, trying to turn his public against him in his pomp, made sure of that.
And Bruno knew it; so when he forgave him years later - "I was never one to hold a grudge" - it might have been safe in the knowledge that he had lost in the ring, but as usual, was the winner out of it.